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Book Review: My Sister’s Bones by Nualla Ellwood

  1. I love books I can’t put down. I hate books I can’t put down. I both love and hate books I cannot put down. They’re so great, and they keep me enthralled – but I wind up reading all day instead of doing all the things I’m supposed to do.
  2. I have great admiration for authors who can write well about PSTD. It stinks. It’s a terrible thing to live with. Suzanne Collins does a good job with showing how PTSD can manifest in The Hunger Games.
  3. My Sister’s Bones by Nualla Ellwood combines both 1 and 2 to create a beautifully written book that delves deep into the psyche of someone who had experienced trauma. Bonus: You can’t put this book down.

 If you’ve ever experienced trauma (and I hope you haven’t), you have moments where you seriously question your interpretation of events. Trauma paints glasses on you that you can’t quite take off, and it creates a filter for the world that may not be accurate. In My Sister’s Bones, Kate, who has returned home after reporting on the Syrian war, is faced with the question of whether what she believes is going on next door is actually what is going on next door.

With three kids under four years old, it’s a rare day that I’ll sit and read an entire book from cover to cover in a single day. This book got that honor, and I’m glad. It was beautifully written, moving, and intriguing – the perfect read for a stormy Kansas day.

About My Sister’s Bones

• Paperback: 416 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (July 11, 2017)

“Rivals The Girl on the Train as a compulsive read (and beats it for style). — Observer (UK)

In the vein of Fiona Barton’s The Widow and Renée Knight’s Disclaimer, a psychological thriller about a war reporter who returns to her childhood home after her mother’s death but becomes convinced that all is not well in the house next door—but is what she’s seeing real or a symptom of the trauma she suffered in Syria?

The One Person You Should Trust Is Lying to You…

Kate has spent fifteen years bringing global injustice home: as a decorated war reporter, she’s always in a place of conflict, writing about ordinary people in unimaginable situations. When her mother dies, Kate returns home from Syria for the funeral. But an incident with a young Syrian boy haunts her dreams, and when Kate sees a boy in the garden of the house next door—a house inhabited by an Iraqi refugee who claims her husband is away and she has no children—Kate becomes convinced that something is very wrong.

As she struggles to separate her memories of Syria from the quiet town in which she grew up—and also to reconcile her memories of a traumatic childhood with her sister’s insistence that all was not as Kate remembers—she begins to wonder what is actually true…and what is just in her mind.

In this gripping, timely debut, Nuala Ellwood brings us an unforgettable damaged character, a haunting , humanizing look at the Syrian conflict, and a deeply harrowing psychological thriller that readers won’t be able to put down.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Nuala Ellwood

Nuala Ellwood is the daughter of an award-winning journalist. Inspired by her father’s and other journalists’ experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder, she gained Arts Council Funding for her research into the topic and ultimately made it the main theme of My Sister’s Bones, her debut psychological thriller.

Find out more about Nuala at her website, and connect with her on Twitter.

Book Review: Red Year by Jan Shapin

Rayna Prohme is a stranger in a strange land, but she hasn’t let that stop her passion. At thirty three years old, she and her husband are in China when she becomes the lover of Mikhail Borodin. Her husband is there covering the failing Chinese revolution, and she comes up with a plan to try to continue her affair with Borodin. She wants to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the revolution’s founder, to Moscow. 

In Jan Shapin’s Red Year, the themes of passion, integrity, and justice are explored within the backdrop of a communist Russia and China. Rayna faces a huge choice after applying to a Soviet espionage school – does she spy on Mme Sun? Does she stand up for the widow? Does she go home with her husband to Chicago? The research Shapin put into the backstory of the novel is very detailed,and the tale she weaves is fascinating. If you enjoy historical fiction, check out this novel.

About Red Year

• Paperback: 286 pages
• Publisher: Cambridge Books (June 4, 2017)

Can a red-haired woman from Chicago single-handedly force Joseph Stalin to back down?

China, 1927. Thirty-three year old Rayna Prohme, accompanying her left-wing journalist husband, becomes the political confidant and lover of Mikhail Borodin, the Russian commander sent to prop up a failing Chinese revolution. In a bid to continue their love affair, Rayna hatches a plan to accompany Mme. Sun, the widow of the Chinese revolution’s founder, to Moscow.

But Moscow does not welcome the women. Borodin shuns them. Rayna’s stipend and housing arrangements are cancelled. “Go home,” she is told. But Rayna does not want to go home to an ordinary life, to her husband and Chicago. Instead, she applies to a Soviet espionage school that soon demands she spy on Mme. Sun. The Chinese widow is, by now, in grave danger as her exit visa is blocked. Rayna must make a choice — Borodin and Russia or Mme. Sun and China.

Praise

Set in Russian and China during the 1920s, this beautifully written novel tells the story of a true American dreamer—a woman who charged into danger in search of passion, justice and some money to pay her bills. A fascinating story. –Susan Breen, author, Maggie Dove mysteries

Purchase Link

Amazon

About Jan Shapin

Jan Shapin has been writing plays and screenplays for nearly thirty years, in the last decade concentrating on fiction. Shapin has studied playwriting at Catholic University in Washington, DC, screenwriting at the Film and Television Workshop and University of Southern California, and fiction writing at a variety of locations including Barnard College’s Writers on Writing seminar, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

Her plays have been produced in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. She has received grants from the RI Council for the Humanities and has served as a juror for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts screenplay fellowship awards. Two previous novels, A Desire Path and A Snug Life Somewhere, were published in 2012 and 2014.

She lives in North Kingstown, RI with her photographer husband. Learn more about Jan at her website, janshapin.com.

Book Review: Sons and Soldiers by Bruce Henderson

World War II history has always been a fascinating subject for me – both because I think it’s important to look at the elements of fascism that were present in the war and because some of the most moving stories come from this period. It’s also a very sad and troubled time in world history. In Sons and Soldiers, Bruce Henderson focuses one one of the previously untold stories from the war: the story of The Ritchie Boys – men who fled Nazi Germany, grew up in the United States, and returned to Europe to fight fascism as part of the U.S. Army. 

The story of The Ritchie Boys is both an important one to tell and an important one to read about.  Henderson follows the boys from the time they were children, through their escapes, to their role in helping the Allies to defeat Adolf Hitler. He masterfully weaves together in-depth research and presents it in a manner that keeps readers engaged – from the first page to the final page. 

About Sons and Soldiers

• Hardcover: 448 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (July 25, 2017)

Joining the ranks of Unbroken, Band of Brothers, and Boys in the Boat, the little-known saga of young German Jews, dubbed The Ritchie Boys, who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, came of age in America, and returned to Europe at enormous personal risk as members of the U.S. Army to play a key role in the Allied victory.

In 1942, the U.S. Army unleashed one of its greatest secret weapons in the battle to defeat Adolf Hitler: training nearly 2,000 German-born Jews in special interrogation techniques and making use of their mastery of the German language, history, and customs. Known as the Ritchie Boys, they were sent in small, elite teams to join every major combat unit in Europe, where they interrogated German POWs and gathered crucial intelligence that saved American lives and helped win the war.

Though they knew what the Nazis would do to them if they were captured, the Ritchie Boys eagerly joined the fight to defeat Hitler. As they did, many of them did not know the fates of their own families left behind in occupied Europe. Taking part in every major campaign in Europe, they collected key tactical intelligence on enemy strength, troop and armored movements, and defensive positions. A postwar Army report found that more than sixty percent of the credible intelligence gathered in Europe came from the Ritchie Boys.

Bruce Henderson draws on personal interviews with many surviving veterans and extensive archival research to bring this never-before-told chapter of the Second World War to light. Sons and Soldiers traces their stories from childhood and their escapes from Nazi Germany, through their feats and sacrifices during the war, to their desperate attempts to find their missing loved ones in war-torn Europe. Sons and Soldiers is an epic story of heroism, courage, and patriotism that will not soon be forgotten.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Sean Marrs

About Bruce Henderson

Bruce Henderson is the author or coauthor of more than twenty nonfiction books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller And the Sea Will Tell. He lives in Menlo Park, California.

Find out more at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

I’m going to let y’all on a not so secret secret: I love superheroes. I am a big fan of Batman and of Wolverine. I think Spiderman is pretty awesome, and I’d love to borrow his spidey-powers for a little while. My favorite character is Rouge. I think it’s brilliant that touch is both her greatest power – and her greatest barrier to intimacy with others. In Joshilyn Jackson’s The Almost Sisters, main character Leia Birch Briggs is also a huge fan of superheroes. In fact, she even wrote a graphic novel about one. 

In fact, she hooked up with Batman while at a convention promoting her graphic novel. And Batman left behind a souvenir of their one night stand. And from there, the novel begins. Jackson weaves together a fun tale that goes deeper than masks and veneers, and her compelling writing keeps you turning the pages.  

About The Almost Sisters

• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow (July 11, 2017)

With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, including gods in Alabama and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages. A former actor, Jackson is also an award-winning audiobook narrator. She lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband and their two children.

Connect with her through her website, Facebook, or Twitter.

Book Review: My Glory Was I Had Such Friends Amy Silverstein

Almost seven years ago, I went through a traumatic experience. The first thing I did, as soon as my oldest and I were safe, was begin to reach out to my network of friends on the phone. I started calling people, because I felt that I could derive strength from my friends, and because I’d become so…cut off from everyone. And, I quickly found out that my friends most definitely were a source of strength for me. It felt good to have people to check in with, to lean on. Amy Silverstein similarly reached out when she was in need of support. She writes about her support network in her memoir, My Glory Was I Had Such Friends.

Amy learned that her donor heart was on its way to failing her, and she needed an immediate heart transplant in order to continue living. When she learned this, nine of her friends put everything on hold to go and be with her and support her – organizing the support so that they could all power through as advocates for Amy. 

Going through a life-threatening situation is harrowing (needless to say). Going through such a situation while accompanied by those who love you and advocate for you and stand by you – so that you always have someone close by to support you – can give you a strength you didn’t know you had. This book is a testimony to the power of friendship and the special bonds of love between friends.

About My Glory Was I Had Such Friends

• Hardcover: 352 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)

In this moving memoir about the power of friendship and the resilience of the human spirit, Amy Silverstein tells the story of the extraordinary group of women who supported her as she waited on the precipice for a life-saving heart transplant.

Nearly twenty-six years after receiving her first heart transplant, Amy Silverstein’s donor heart plummeted into failure. If she wanted to live, she had to take on the grueling quest for a new heart—immediately.

A shot at survival meant uprooting her life and moving across the country to California. When her friends heard of her plans, there was only one reaction: “I’m there.” Nine remarkable women—Joy, Jill, Leja, Jody, Lauren, Robin, Valerie, Ann, and Jane—put demanding jobs and pressing family obligations on hold to fly across the country and be by Amy’s side. Creating a calendar spreadsheet, the women—some of them strangers to one another—passed the baton of friendship, one to the next, and headed straight and strong into the battle to help save Amy’s life.

Empowered by the kind of empathy that can only grow with age, these women, each knowing Amy from different stages of her life, banded together to provide her with something that medicine alone could not.  Sleeping on a cot beside her bed, they rubbed her back and feet when the pain was unbearable, adorned her room with death-distracting decorations, and engaged in their “best talks ever.”  They saw the true measure of their friend’s strength, and they each responded in kind.

My Glory Was I Had Such Friends is a tribute to these women and the intense hours they spent together—hours of heightened emotion and self-awareness, where everything was laid bare. Candid and heartrending, this once-in-a-lifetime story of connection and empathy is a powerful reminder of the ultimate importance of “showing up” for those we love.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes &  Noble

Photo by Deborah Feingold

About Amy Silverstein

Amy Silverstein is the author of Sick Girl, which won a “Books for a Better Life Award” and was a finalist for the Border’s Original Voices Award. She earned her Juris Doctor at New York University School of Law, has served on the Board of the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS), and is an active speaker and writer on women’s health issues and patient advocacy. She lives in New York.

Find out more about Amy at her website, and connect with her on Facebook.

Book Review: News of the World by Paulette Jiles

What does it mean to be free? What happens when “saving” someone isn’t necessarily saving that person? Paulette Jiles explores these questions, beautifully, in her book, News of the World. Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels and performs the newspaper for those who want to know what’s going on, but who cannot themselves read the news. This lifestyle suits the widower, and he enjoys what he does. Then, he is asked to help return Johanna, a 10 year old girl, to her relatives. Johanna has forgotten how to speak English, and tries to run away constantly during their 400-mile journey to her relatives. 

Like Jiles’ other novels, News of the World is beautifully written. Her words almost sing on the page. Not only does the adventure that the two travelers take keep one turning the page, but the development of the characters and the relationship between Captain Kidd and Johanna also keeps readers engaged from beginning to end.

About News of the World

• Paperback: 240 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 20, 2017)

In the aftermath of the Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this exquisitely rendered, morally complex, multilayered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

In the wake of the Civil War, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

Arriving in San Antonio, the reunion is neither happy nor welcome. The captain must hand Johanna over to an aunt and uncle she does not remember—strangers who regard her as an unwanted burden. A respectable man, Captain Kidd is faced with a terrible choice: abandon the girl to her fate or become—in the eyes of the law—a kidnapper himself.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Jill Gann

About Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles is a novelist, poet, and memoirist. She is the author of Cousins, a memoir, and the novels Enemy Women, Stormy Weather, The Color of Lightning, Lighthouse Island, and News of the World. She lives on a ranch near San Antonio, TX.

Find out more about Paulette at her website.

Book Review: Kiss Carlo by Adriana Trigiani

To leap, or not to leap: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of familial expectations and obligations, or to take arms and follow one’s own passions and dreams? In Kiss Carlo, Adriana Trigiani explores this question among others against a backdrop of a local Shakespeare theatre company. It’s 1949, and Dominic Palazzini and his three sons are doing well. Meanwhile, Dominic’s orphaned nephew is trying to find himself and break free from the just-a-job he has.  

Every time Wining Husband and I go to a book sale, we pick up books by Adriana Trigiani. The stories she tells are rich, complex, and dive deep into the psyches of her characters. Kiss Carlo is no different. If you’re looking for a great summer read that will have you coming back for more (or if you’re lucky enough not to have small interrupters, read all the way through to the end in one sitting), then Kiss Carlo can fill that niche. It’s beautifully written, and it really pushes the question of what’s more important: passion and happiness or tradition and family.

About Kiss Carlo

• Hardcover: 544 pages
• Publisher: Harper (June 20, 2017)

From Adriana Trigiani, the beloved New York Times-bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife, comes an exhilarating epic novel of love, loyalty, and creativitythe story of an Italian-American family on the cusp of change.

It’s 1949 and South Philadelphia bursts with opportunity during the post-war boom. The Palazzini Cab Company & Western Union Telegraph Office, owned and operated by Dominic Palazzini and his three sons, is flourishing: business is good, they’re surrounded by sympathetic wives and daughters-in-law, with grandchildren on the way. But a decades-long feud that split Dominic and his brother Mike and their once-close families sets the stage for a re-match.

Amidst the hoopla, the arrival of an urgent telegram from Italy upends the life of Nicky Castone (Dominic and his wife’s orphaned nephew) who lives and works with his Uncle Dom and his family. Nicky decides, at 30, that he wants more—more than just a job driving Car #4 and more than his longtime fiancée Peachy DePino, a bookkeeper, can offer. When he admits to his fiancée that he’s been secretly moonlighting at the local Shakespeare theater company, Nicky finds himself drawn to the stage, its colorful players and to the determined Calla Borelli, who inherited the enterprise from her father, Nicky must choose between the conventional life his family expects of him or chart a new course and risk losing everything he cherishes.

From the dreamy mountaintop village of Roseto Valfortore in Italy, to the vibrant streets of South Philly, to the close-knit enclave of Roseto, Pennsylvania, to New York City during the birth of the golden age of television, Kiss Carlo is a powerful, inter-generational story that celebrates the ties that bind, while staying true to oneself when all hope seems lost.

Told against the backdrop of some of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies, this novel brims with romance as long buried secrets are revealed, mistaken identities are unmasked, scores are settled, broken hearts are mended and true love reigns. Trigiani’s consummate storytelling skill and her trademark wit, along with a dazzling cast of characters will enthrall readers. Once again, the author has returned to her own family garden to create an unforgettable feast. Kiss Carlo is a jubilee, resplendent with hope, love, and the abiding power of la famiglia.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Photo by Tim Stephenson

About Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani is the bestselling author of 17 books, which have been published in 36 countries around the world. She is a playwright, television writer/producer and filmmaker. She wrote and directed the film version of her novel Big Stone Gap, which was shot entirely on location in her Virginia hometown. She is co-founder of the Origin Project, an in-school writing program that serves more than a thousand students in Appalachia. She lives in Greenwich Village with her family.

Visit Adriana at her website: www.adrianatrigiani.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Bean Box Subscription Review

*This post contains affiliate links. Clicking on an affiliate link and making a purchase helps me to support my family at no additional cost to you.  I received a 3-month subscription to Bean Box in exchange for my honest review of the product. 

It’s really not a secret that I have a strong coffee addiction. One of the hardest things about being pregnant, other than not being able to drink wine and the 3rd trimester discomfort, is having to cut back on my coffee consumption. Even now, because I’m breastfeeding, I have to be mindful about the number of cups of java I enjoy since baby bodies are not able to metabolize caffeine. That said, I was really excited when I was offered the chance to review Bean Box in exchange for receiving a 3-month subscription to the service. 

About Bean Box

There are two main subscription options for Bean Box. You can choose to get a Bean Box sampler, which comes with four 1.8-oz roasts for each month for $18, or you can choose the coffee of the month option, which features a different 12-oz bag of coffee each shipment for $23 per shipment. Here’s where it gets cool: If you choose the 12-oz bag option, you can also choose how often you would like to receive your bag of coffee.  If you would like more frequent shipments, you can choose to get one bag every two weeks or you can choose to get a bag each week. Bean Box offers discounts for these options. 

I received the coffee of the month subscription option. The roasts I received were: 

  • Broadcast Coffee Roasters’ Columbia Tunia
  • Slate Coffee Roasters’ Cream and Sugar

I have one more shipment I’m looking forward to in the next couple of days. 

Tasting Coffee

Bean Box Coffee Gift GuideJust as there is with tasting wine, there is an art to tasting coffee. If you’re new to the idea of tasting coffee and thinking about the nuances of flavor, I strongly suggest reading Bean Box’s blog post: “How to Taste Coffee Like a Pro.” To taste coffee at home, we use a Capresso brand burr grinder. Using this type of grinder as opposed to other types of coffee grinders helps to preserve the beans’ oils, and thus helps to bring out the nuances of taste. We used a French press when brewing, and for tasting purposes, we kept the coffee unadulterated by milk or sugar. 

Broadcast Coffee Roasters’ Columbia Tunia

Broadcast Coffee Roasters is owned by Barry Faught. His three Seattle cafes have attracted a good bit of attention- and for good reason.  He has specially sourced his beans through travel, and takes a lighter roasting approach to preserve the unique qualities of each bean. Wining Husband and I were really impressed with their Columbia Tunia flavor that we received in the May box. I never thought I’d taste apple in coffee, but I did. This coffee had hints of crisp apple, smooth caramel, and chocolate. While we had this coffee, we didn’t need any sugar or cream – it was perfect as it was!

Slate Coffee Roasters’ Cream and Sugar

Slate Coffee Roasters is a newer Seattle coffee scene member. The family opened their business in 2012 in Ballard, Washington. Like Broadcast, Slate features single origin coffees. A visit to their coffee shop is a real treat as you can order a flight of coffee – much like you would if you were to go to a wine tasting. Like Broadcast, Slate prefers to veer on the side of the lighter roast to bring out the flavor of the beans. I’ll be honest, I normally do not like lighter roasts – but I found that I loved their Cream and Sugar roast. It was smooth and nutty. I could really taste the almond and caramel notes in the coffee, and really liked it.

I’m really looking forward to what July’s box brings, and we’ll be continuing our subscription to Bean Box. We love sampling coffees from different roasters, and it really makes for a nice treat. 

All new Bean Box subscribers receive a 10% discount on their first box when signing up for the Bean Box newsletter.

What’s your favorite coffee? Post your thoughts in the comments. 

 

 

Book Review: Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz

Happy Independence Day! I hope you’re going out to see fireworks later. 

How do social behaviors become viral? I found Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz to be a fascinating work exploring how it is that emotions can be passed from one individual to another. Have you ever noticed that if you’re around someone who is stressed out or who is complaining suddenly you begin to feel stressed out and you begin to complain and feel dissatisfied with the current state of affairs? I know that I have. Kravetz searches for the reasons that behaviors and emotions can be passed from one individual to another in a way that makes this book a page-turner. I find the idea of a social contagion to be absolutely fascinating (and true to my own experience), and I was unable to put this one down. 

About Strange Contagion

• Hardcover: 288 pages
• Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)

Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.

In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.

A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?

The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a “strange contagion:” a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.

Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Lee Daniel Kravetz

Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.

Find out more about Lee at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Soulmates by Jessica Grose

Everything happens for a reason – or does it? This is a question philosophers and theologians have debated about for a long time. On the one hand, it seems as though there is a divine order to the universe – things cannot be merely coincidental. On the other hand, things can be so random that it’s hard to believe that there’s any sort of order to the universe. Soulmates by Jessica Grose takes a sneering, biting hit at new-age spirituality in its own answer to this question. 

As a Christian who dabbled in Kabbalah, Buddhism, Wicca, and other spiritual paths, I was intrigued by the premise of the novel: A woman’s ex husband ran away with a yoga instructor after the modern wistfulness for a more peaceful existence through new age spirituality. The novel is as much of a mystery as it is a satire. It’s great fun to read, and I had a rough time putting it down. It’s a novel about how sometimes the people we think we know the best can be the people we know the least because we’ve already made up our minds about who that person is. 

About Soulmates

• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 13, 2017)

“For anyone who has ever suspected something sinister lurking behind the craze of new-age spirituality, Jessica Grose has crafted just the tale for you. With the delicious bite of satire and the page-turning satisfaction of a thriller, Soulmates is a deeply compelling, funny and sharply observed look at just how far we will go to achieve inner peace.”—Lena Dunham

A clever, timely novel about a marriage, and infidelity, the meaning of true spirituality, perception and reality from the author of Sad Desk Salad, in which a scorned ex-wife tries to puzzle out the pieces of her husband’s mysterious death at a yoga retreat and their life together.

It’s been two years since the divorce, and Dana has moved on. She’s killing it at her law firm, she’s never looked better, thanks to all those healthy meals she cooks, and she’s thrown away Ethan’s ratty old plaid recliner. She hardly thinks about her husband—ex-husband—anymore, or about how the man she’d known since college ran away to the Southwest with a yoga instructor, spouting spiritual claptrap that Dana still can’t comprehend.

But when she sees Ethan’s picture splashed across the front page of the New York Post—”Nama-Slay: Yoga Couple Found Dead in New Mexico Cave”—Dana discovers she hasn’t fully let go of Ethan or the past. The article implies that it was a murder-suicide, and Ethan’s to blame. How could the man she once loved so deeply be a killer? Restless to find answers that might help her finally to let go, Dana begins to dig into the mystery surrounding Ethan’s death. Sifting through the clues of his life, Dana finds herself back in the last years of their marriage . . . and discovers that their relationship—like Ethan’s death—wasn’t what it appeared to be.

A novel of marriage, meditation, and all the spaces in between, Soulmates is a page-turning mystery, a delicious satire of our feel-good spiritual culture, and a nuanced look at contemporary relationships by one of the sharpest writers working today.

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Photo by Judith Ebenstein

About Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a writer and editor. She was previously a senior editor at Slate and an editor at Jezebel. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Glamour, Marie Claire, Spin, and several other publications, and on Salon.com. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Find out more about Jessica at her website, and connect with her on Twitter.

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